An Interview with DEB DANAHAY
This UK May Day Bank Holiday weekend sees a gathering of the masses taking place at the BAS II Festival.
DEPECHE MODE fans from all over the world will gather in Basildon, Essex between Friday 4th to Saturday 5th May 2012 to celebrate the legacy of the town’s biggest musical export but also the region’s electronic music scene.
Among those confirmed to appear are TENEK, MODOVAR, SHINY DARKNESS, ROBERT MARLOW, SPACEBUOY, ELECTRO KILL MACHINE and SINESTAR. Bands with DM connections who will be joining proceedings include Martin Gore’s nephew’s band BA5IC and tribute act SPEAK & SPELL.
Together with other Some Bizzare Album contributors SOFT CELL, THE THE and B-MOVIE, DEPECHE MODE became part of an emergent scene that was to have a long lasting impact on pop, electronica, alternative, industrial and beyond with artists as diverse as DAVID GRAY (who covered SOFT CELL’s ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’), MANIC STREET PREACHERS (who covered THE THE’s ‘This Is The Day’), RAMMSTEIN (who covered DM’s ‘Stripped’) and DIDO (whose song ‘Here With Me’ was co-written by B-MOVIE’s Paul Statham)!
But the biggest coup has been the announcement that BLANCMANGE will be headlining BAS II. Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe opened side two of the Some Bizarre Album with the instrumental Sad Day and later supported DEPECHE MODE. Remaining friends in particular with Vince Clarke, the duo had their own success with the albums ‘Happy Families’ and ‘Mange Tout’ while they made their return last year with ‘Blanc Burn’ and a series of well received live dates.
On the Saturday afternoon, BAS II will host an exhibition of DEPECHE MODE memorabilia at The James Hornsby School in Laindon which Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Alison Moyet once attended. It also hosted one of DEPECHE MODE’s first gigs with the original line-up of Vince Clarke, Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore; a plaque at the school proudly commemoratives that occasion.
BAS II curator Deb Danahay is a well known member of the DEPECHE MODE family having founded the band’s fan club with Jo Gahan.
As Vince Clarke’s girlfriend, Deb experienced at first hand the trials and tribulations of a group of young men fusing the sound of the synthesizer to a new ultrapop template.
Signing to Mute Records, they released their debut album ‘Speak & Spell’ in Autumn 1981 but there was then the shock announcement that Vince Clarke would be leaving the band to form YAZOO with blues singer Alison Moyet!
With the transformation from synth boy band into something much darker and sinister, DEPECHE MODE were very much a product of their surroundings, a development provoked by the conservatism of their new town birthplace and the gifted opportunity to suddenly see the world.
Despite their inventiveness, DEPECHE MODE garnered a negative reaction from the British music press but found a more positive response abroad. Their stark industrialised experimentation and filmic qualities eventually conquered the arenas of Europe and then the stadiums of America with albums such as ‘Music For The Masses’, ‘Violator’ and ‘Songs Of Faith Of Devotion’.
Deb Danahay kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about BAS II and reminisced on her time within the DEPECHE MODE camp.
What was the original catalyst for holding a DM fan event in Basildon?
I joined Facebook and started having lots of European fans get in touch with me…they’d read the book ‘Stripped’ by Jonathan Miller and I’m the only Deb Danahay in the world as far as I know so it was easy to get hold of me *laughs*
They started posting up photos and someone sent me a video of The Masses, a DM event in Hamburg… I thought it was a gig, but there were all these fans waving their hands to a DJ!
It blew me away that people went to evenings that were purely DEPECHE MODE music all night long. I was invited to go over to Berlin with ROBERT MARLOW which was really surreal that they wanted me to go over. That’s when I realised this was quite a big thing.
So how was the first event in 2011 received? Where were people making the journey from?
There were a lot of Germans, some Swiss, Swedes, Romanians, and Italians… they were so lovely and happy to be together to party and be in Basildon.
There’s going to be a Bus Tour visiting all of the special places that the European fans who come over to Basildon on their own steam would visit… to them, it’s like Liverpool with THE BEATLES.
So included are the band members’ childhood homes, schools etc. We’re using the tour bus that YAZOO used for their ‘Reconnected’ Tour so that’s quite exciting in itself. There’s going to be a film that people can watch on the bus and then they visit the relevant places, take pictures and meet people who were important to DEPECHE MODE in the early years. These people will tell their stories and chat to fans.
For the bands have you chosen to play BASII, what selection criteria have you used?
Mainly, they have a DEPECHE MODE / YAZOO / Basildon connection or they’re people that we know. Although in the case of one band MODOVAR, the singer Chris used to write to the YAZOO fan club – which I used to run back in the day! *laughs*
Yes, BLANCMANGE supported DEPECHE MODE in 1981. Vince, Neil and Stephen were good friends, we went on holiday together so there was a camaraderie. I did lose touch with them but when they started touring again last year, I met up with them again. Neil’s really up for BAS II…
For those who are thinking about whether to come along or not, what sort of people is BASII likely to appeal to and what can they expect if they come?
It’s for people who appreciate electronic music and also, it’s a party as opposed to a festival really. There’s a club at the end of each evening after the bands. It’s for like minded people to socialise, appreciate live music and party! The DM devotees just love getting together at gigs and events. A welcoming friendly atmosphere is guaranteed.
What will the DJs be playing?
Electronica from the late 70s to present day. There’s a specialist DJ Dan Martin from Barcelona who will be playing purely DEPECHE MODE for the Saturday night club party.
You’ve mentioned YAZOO but will the other offshoot acts such as ERASURE and RECOIL also figure?
Yes of course – if that’s what the DJs like yourself choose to play! *laughs*
You’ve have a close connection with the DEPECHE MODE family, what was your first memory of them in those fledgling days?
I knew Dave first, we used to go to the same pubs and clubs… we were slaves to fashion and whatever was the latest trend at that time! Me and Dave were into the soul scene first.
I remember we were at a party and being a good friend, he walked me home. He mentioned Vince, who I didn’t know then, had asked him to be lead singer of this band… Dave didn’t know what to do! So I said “go for it, there’s nothing to lose!” *laughs*
Vince was very astute, he’d asked Dave because Dave was popular and had a lot of friends who were part of the ‘In Crowd’. Vince, Martin and Fletch were part of a Christian Fellowship; that was their musical background. I then met ROBERT MARLOW who was Vince’s best friend and then I met Vince through Rob.
The first time I saw them was at a party that I held at The Paddocks in Basildon, but they were called COMPOSITION OF SOUND then. I still have a Fanzine gig review of that performance – it can be seen at the Memorabilia Event.
Had you been interested in electronic music much at that point?
I was a Soul Girl initially – but was drawn to GIORGIO MORODER through DONNA SUMMER *laughs*
This led onto KRAFTWERK and ULTRAVOX then THE HUMAN LEAGUE, GARY NUMAN and OMD. Then of course, there was THE NORMAL, SILICON TEENS and FAD GADGET. I couldn’t believe it when I first got to know Daniel Miller, it was such a shock to find out he was THE NORMAL and THE SILICON TEENS!! I’d bought these records ages before…I thought THE SILICON TEENS were a proper group! I’m sure everyone else did! *laughs*
Did anyone have an inkling that something was going to happen with DEPECHE MODE?
NO! No one did! Vince was very driven and striving but he was on the dole! No-one within the band thought they would become big stars. The scene they were in around Crocs, everyone was just having a party *laughs*
On the 20th Century Box documentary narrated by Danny Baker, the boys can be seen rehearsing a song that was never actually released. Judging by the evidence on film, there’s probably a reason why that one has never come out! But in your opinion, was there an unreleased DEPECHE MODE song that was either played live or rehearsed which is perhaps a hidden jewel and should have been recorded?
There is ‘Television Set’ but that wasn’t written by any of the band and that’s why it was never got recorded.
One of the exhibits you’re going to have at BASII on the Saturday afternoon at James Hornsby School is to give fans the opportunities to hear some rare tracks and demos?
I had demos of Vince and Alison recorded at an 8 track in Vince’s flat. We have a unit so people can listen on headphones. This year we have special DEPECHE MODE demos and as BLANCMANGE are performing, I have a demo that BLANCMANGE and YAZOO recorded but was never released….
So Just Can’t Get Enough becomes a huge hit, Speak & Spell has just been released and then Vince Clarke announces he’s leaving! What honestly did you think at the time?
Well, I was very much in love with Vince at that time, it didn’t matter what he did. I wasn’t surprised when he left, but not because of anything anyone did. It was just Vince, he didn’t like being tied down, or he didn’t then…
Things were fine, but obviously I remember feeling bad because they didn’t understand why. It was just Vince in himself. Socially, I used to meet the guys down the pub – part of the gang as normal – which speaks volumes of their characters doesn’t it?
Mute’s Daniel Miller has to be applauded for being a great mentor at this time…
His personality and character held everything together, he was just so balanced and level. I never saw him lose his patience or temper with anyone. He was a big motivator. Also, Mute itself then was tiny, it was really laid back and friendly.
‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ and ‘A Broken Frame’ came out within a few weeks of each other in Autumn 1982. With their 30th anniversaries coming up, how do you think these two albums stand up to scrutiny now?
They’re just brilliant of course! I’m very biased aren’t I? *laughs*
I think it’s because they have a deep friendship and Basildon people, we have this self-deprecating humour…I remember in the most recent DM book, 1983 support act MATT FRETTON said he couldn’t understand how Dave, Martin and Fletch used to take the mickey out of each other…but I could understand that. It’s a joke, not a personal thing, it’s not about having a go at someone, but he couldn’t see that. That’s the sort of thing that has kept them together. When you listen to them being interviewed, they’re still so down to earth.
So why do you think DEPECHE MODE have been the most successful act of the Synth Britannia generation, particularly in America where other acts from the era such as GARY NUMAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, SIMPLE MINDS have had a couple of big hits but have been unable to maintain the kind of momentum which still sees DM play huge venues?
The feeling I get from the European fans is that DEPECHE MODE songs portray their lives. The lyrics in tracks like ‘Walking In My Shoes’ mean something emotionally to them.
That’s why a lot of people are drawn to DEPECHE MODE, it’s about their lives, whether it’s being heartbroken or lonely through the years.
What do you think of the stuff that Vince Clarke and Martin Gore have recorded as VCMG?
I think it’s wonderful that they have connected again…..but personally I’m not really into trancey disco, it’s not my cup of tea…
Your favourite DEPECHE MODE songs and album?
Wow! Too many to mention Chi!
The ‘Speak & Spell’ era has got a great personal thing for me. ‘Big Muff’, I just love ‘Big Muff!’
Heh! Heh! You said ‘Big Muff’! Sorry, I’m just being childish… *laughs*
… and I love ‘Personal Jesus’. Anything that JOHNNY CASH covers has just got to be incredible…
What about any of Vince Clarke’s various projects?
I love all the early ERASURE catalogue like ‘Sometimes’ and ‘A Little Respect’ – but again to many to mention. THE ASSEMBLY with Feargal Sharkey, that was just amazing. Vince did some work with the guys from WIRE which has just come out in a box set… DOME they were called – totally originally pieces of work…
You’ve entered into band management. Please tell us about MODOVAR and why you think they have that special quality in your view…
Chris Beecham has got such a fantastic natural voice, I heard him sing a cover of YAZOO’s ‘Midnight’ – that was just brilliant. Their songs are very accessible! Chris is influenced by Alison Moyet and classic soul while one of the instrumentalists Glen Wisbey is a huge DEPECHE MODE fan. The other instrumentalist Chris Taubert on the other hand is more trance but together, MODOVAR are very soulful synthpop.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Deb Danahay
BAS II takes place on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th May 2012. The Electricity Club will be DJing on the Friday night after BLANCMANGE’s live set. Other DJs include Dan Martin and Dave Charles.
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Archive photos courtesy of Deb Danahay
8th March 2012